American Century Theater Life with FatherBy McCall Doyle • Dec 4th, 2008 • Category: Reviews
American Century Theater
Gunston Arts Center Theatre Two, Arlington, VA
$28/$25 seniors and students
Through Dec. 6th; Jan. 4th – 24th
Life with Father is the perfect show for the whole family. It’s chock full of colorful personalities and characters that manage to be relevant in 2008. There isn’t a bit of lewdness, violence, or even profanity to be found in the script…well, except for the “Damn!” shouted repeatedly by the main character.
The original setting of the play is 1892, but it never felt quite that period. It was performed more in the vein of a Kaufman & Hart 1930s/1940s show, which is when it was actually written.
Director Rip Claassen has given us a charming picture of old fashioned family life and values. It’s refreshingly heavy on the sentiment and humor, and light on weighty issues. Despite being a three act show with two intermissions, it never drags.
The show focuses on the redheaded Day family, comprised of father Clarence, mother Vinnie, and their four sons (Clarence Jr., John, Whitney, and Harlan). The Day family is doing quite well, living in a beautiful home in NYC, and Clarence Sr. a successful businessman. The patriarch of the family thinks he’s controlling the purse strings, the visiting relatives, and the love lives of everyone inside the family. Of course, he’s wrong. His wife & children influence and outsmart him at every turn, all the while giving him the idea that he’s in charge. The manipulation here is consistently sweet and funny. The most crucial plot point revolves around the baptism (or lack thereof) of the patriarch. It’s hilarious to think of how religious and political perceptions haven’t changed too much over the last century.
Clarence Day Sr. is played with irresistible charisma by Joe Cronin. He makes every entrance with conviction and takes the room by storm. Even when he’s disparaging the latest in a long line of rotating housekeepers, he’s lovable. His curmudgeon is layered with a deep and abiding love for his wife and children. In fact, shades of my own father dramatically uttering “I dedicated my life to make my wife & children happy” ran through my head as I sat in the theater.
Deborah Critzer is a wonderfully warm and adorable Vinnie. At first entrance, her frenetic energy and slightly hysterical delivery of lines seemed overdone…then she grows more likable by the minute. Her insipidness is a mere act, and she carefully cajoles her husband, the preacher, and her relatives into following all her whims. By show’s end, everyone is under her enticing spell of bright giddiness.
Clarence Jr. is played with an appealing honesty by Karl Bittner, and he is nicely matched with a young visitor, Mary Skinner (Megan Graves)…the two of them have the saccharine chemistry and fitting glee that goes along with first love. There are some amusing moments involving a suit of clothes passed down from father to son, as well as a desperate scramble for the latter to earn enough money to buy his own clothes.
Middle son Whitney Day, about to be confirmed in the church but more interested in baseball, is played with a pleasant authenticity by Paul Hogan. Some of the roles were played a bit over the top for the period, but a few stood out with excellence…the preacher, portrayed with just the right amount of religious zest and schmooze by Brian Crane; long suffering maid Margaret, played with spirited authority by Karen Lange; and cousin Cora, infused with lively energy by Sarah Holt.
Bill Gordon‘s sound design is impeccable as always, and the set design by Trena Weiss-Null is classically beautiful as well as functional. Lighting (AnnMarie Castrigno) was well done, particularly the window effect and the cool lavender wash on the family room walls. Costumes, especially those worn by Vinnie, Cora & Mary, were exquisite. Designer Ceci Albert has done a lovely job here.
It was nice to sit back, relax, and become a member of the Day family for an afternoon. It’s the type of show to find success in these hard economic times. American Century Theater is known for their high quality productions of underperformed American works, and this show doesn’t disappoint.
Life with Father has an interesting split run, sharing the space with the Christmas musical revue that comes in from 12/9/08 to 1/4/09.
(Disclaimer: McCall is performing in American Century Theater’s Christmas show, An American Century Christmas.)
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